The Three Searchers

Early evening.  Stars pop out in the winter skies over Lebanon, Kansas located in Smith County … years ago determined by someone to be the exact middle of the continental US.

It’s getting closer to Xmas and time is running out for the three men wearing raincoats as they enter Pooche’s, the only bar in this town of 309 people – four more women than men according to the latest census.

As the three strangers push open the door, a rusty dented bell jangles announcing their presence.  At the sound of the bell, three old men and a lone woman, the only inhabitants in the bar, turn their heads in unison toward the strangers in town.

Dour looking, dusty and tired, the three swarthy oily black-haired bearded travelers look left then right before silently passing through the small room.  They take seats on worn cracked Naugahyde covered stools at the end of the bar … right in front of a small manger scene.

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The manger appears to have been left in place all year as witnessed by minute dust bunnies hidden in the crevices of the mini-stable.

The men see the tiny Joseph and Mary gazing skyward with complete reverence.  In a tiny cradle lies a tinier swaddled pink-skinned blue-eyed baby Jesus.  The man at the far left snorts when he sees the pink baby Jesus.

Kneeling in the hay beside the manger slightly outside its confines there is a goat, sheep, donkey and a dairy cow.  The traveler on the far right points out the cow and snorts.

Four angels suspended from bent coat hangers float in the air above the manger.  All four are blowing elongated celestial trumpets.  The middle man tweaks the angels with his finger tips.  The angels clack off each other as they “fly in the sky.”  Dust particles sift through the stale bar air dropping to the manger roof like early winter snow flakes.

The middle man orders three bourbons on the rocks with twists and a splash of water. “Distilled,” he says to the bartender, a younger man in his forties.  “Distilled?” the bartender questions.

The man on the left answers, “Yeh, distilled.  Bottled will work.  Definitely not tap.”

The drinks arrive and the bartender asks with a hint of hope in his voice, “Do you guys want to run a tab, tonight?”  All three shake their heads from side-to-side. The man in the middles says, “We’re traveling.  Moving East.”

As the bartender leaves, the man on the right says to the man on the far left, “You got the tab tonight.  I got the tip.”

The man on the right then reaches under his raincoat past his striped tunic into an ancient animal skin pouch and pinches off a bit of a gummy oily resin that is heavily scented.  He places the substance on a napkin at the bar.  An oily stain immediately appears on the paper cocktail napkin.  A soft sweet aroma rises from the substance.

The man on the far left says, “Myrrh?”  The man on the right nods.  They finish their drinks and silently leave.

Outside Pooche’s they look into the sky trying to decide which direction to go when they spot a brightly lit star in the eastern sky.  “There.  That’s the star … let’s go,” says the middle man.

As they walk down the street they hear shuffling behind them and turn, “You cheap bastards.  What?  No tip?”  It’s the bartender from Pooche’s.

The two men look to the man who paid the tab.  He digs into his purse once again and produces a gold coin and presses it into the extended hand of the bartender who now stares speechless at the three men.

He finally stammers, “Can I … can I help you guys?”

“Yeh,” says the guy in the middle.  “You seen a man and a woman – pregnant – on a donkey around here?  We’re supposed to meet them for a birthday party. We got the gifts but we can’t seem to find them.”

The bartender gives them a blank stare and says, “I think you guys have lost your way.”  He pivots and leaves … headed back to Pooche’s muttering under his breath.

“Xmas … always bring out the crazies.”

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